In St. Croix District Court, one man was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for his conviction in a cocaine distributing case and in an unrelated case, a St. Croix man pled guilty in an unrelated firearms case, according to U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert.
Anibal Vega-Arizmendi Sentenced
District Court Judge Wilma A. Lewis on Wednesday sentenced Anibal Vega-Arizmendi, age 29, of Puerto Rico, to 135 months in prison for conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and attempted possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
Lewis also sentenced Vega-Arizmendi to five years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay a fine of $2,000 and a special assessment of $300.
On June 26, 2018, a federal jury convicted Vega-Arizmendi along with five co- defendants on cocaine-related charges. Evidence at trial revealed that their organization planned the mid-sea retrieval of more than 300 kilograms of cocaine during the period of the conspiracy, January 2014 through March 2016. Approximately 223 kilograms of cocaine were actually distributed by the drug organization. Law enforcement efforts to interdict some of the the drug shipments were successful, beginning in 2015. In Oct. 2014, Vega-Arizmendi and others retrieved 71 kilograms of cocaine from the sea. Between Dec.13 and 15, 2014, he assisted others in attempts to retrieve 30 kilograms of cocaine mid-sea. Witnessed testified that Vega-Arizmendi functioned as a boat operator. Between Nov. 7, 2015, and Nov. 12, 2015, he and others made several unsuccessful attempts to retrieve 87 kilograms of cocaine from mid-sea.
Fourteen individuals were originally charged as part of the drug trafficking organization. Prior to trial, six defendants entered guilty pleas and were sentenced. Of the six that were convicted on June 26, 2018, five have been sentenced and one is awaiting sentence.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alphonso G. Andrews, Jr. and Everard E. Potter.
William Payne Pleads Guilty
William Payne, 39, of St. Croix, pled guilty on Wednesday in District Court to one federal count of possession of a firearm by a convicted Felon, Shappert SaId.
According to court documents, on April 28, 2017, Payne and another individual traveled to Southern Oaks Gun and Pawn, a federally licensed firearms dealer in Orlando, Florida. Payne was present when the other individual purchased a KEL TEC PLR-16 semi-automatic pistol.
On May 2, 2017, Payne caused the same firearm, two high-capacity magazines, and ammunition to be shipped by Tropical Shipping via seaborne container freight shipment from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to St. Croix. The firearm, high capacity magazines, and ammunition thus traveled in or affected interstate commerce.
On May 16, 2017, Customs and Border Protection officers conducted an inspection of an inbound Tropical Shipping freight container. Upon inspection of a pallet of commercial goods destined for a local St. Croix business, CBP officers located the KEL TEC PLR-16 semi-automatic pistol, the two high-capacity magazines for the firearm, and 206 rounds of 5.56x45mm ammunition hidden amongst a larger shipment of items for commercial use. The box containing the firearm, high-capacity magazines, and ammunition bore a prior shipping label addressed to Payne at a Florida address.
On May 17, 2017, Homeland Security Investigations special agents and other federal special agents conducted a controlled delivery of the firearm, high-capacity magazines, and ammunition. Payne and the owner of the small business arrived at Tropical Shipping to receive the shipment. Payne was arrested after the pallet containing the KEL TEC PLR-16 Semi- automatic Pistol, high capacity magazines, and ammunition were loaded onto the pickup that was being used to transport the pallet from Tropical Shipping.
Payne had previously been convicted of three felony offenses: in 2000, for grand theft of a motor vehicle; in 2001, for resisting an officer with violence; and in 2007, for delivery of cocaine, all in the Circuit Court for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, in Orange County, Florida.
This offense carries a possible sentence of incarceration of up to 10 years, a maximum fine of up to $250,000 dollars, and a term of supervised release of up to three years. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 22.
The case was investigated by Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Drug Enforcement Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel H. Huston prosecuted the case.